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Staying safe on the lake: Boaters, swimmers should be wary of rules of the water

This summer marks the first time in three years that water levels are near normal at Clarks Hill Lake in McDuffie County. And with that in mind, hundreds of people are expected to flock to various camping and other sites for boating, fishing, swimming, etc. in the weeks ahead.

The water also offers a multitude of unseen dangers.

That's why rangers with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division near Thomson will be out and about patrolling the 79,000 acres of the lake, as well as the 1,200 miles of shoreline that includes four other counties - Wilkes, Lincoln, Elbert and Columbia.

One of those rangers is Brian Adams, a 12-year veteran. A Glascock County resident, Ranger Adams knows all too well the dangers that lurk in and around the water of Clarks Hill Lake - the biggest man-made body of water this side of the Mississippi River.

"I want you to leave in the same way you showed up - safe," Ranger Adams said during an outing in his boat along Little River last Friday. "We expect folks to come more to the lake this year than last year. We want everybody to be as safe as possible."

Some of the perils on the water include taking chances while swimming that can result in drowning or boating mishaps. In many cases, it simply boils down to people not thinking about the consequences.

"You don't need to be swimming if you've been drinking," Ranger Adams said, noting that alcohol and water can sometimes prove to be deadly combinations. "You also don't need to be swimming and taking chances if you're a poor swimmer. That can cost someone their life, too."

Ranger Adams said people need to think before they do foolish things and have respect for the water.

"We urge everybody to use caution and to obey safety laws anytime they are visiting the lake," Ranger Adams said.

Another problem that DNR rangers run into while patrolling the large lake are persons operating boats while under the influence of alcohol.

"We strongly recommend a safe driver when operating a boat," Ranger Adams said, pointing out that drivers over the .08 limit are apt to be charged with boating under the influence. "The law on the water is the same as that of the road."

Those actually charged with such offense are taken to jail in the county where they are arrested and face possible conviction in Probate Court. In some cases, such offenders can lose their license for up to a year, have to pay a hefty fine and ordered to attend boater safety class.

A number of persons also are cited for violating the state's 100-foot law, which is why it is highly recommended that operators of boats educate themselves.

"Boat operators don't need a license and they are not required by law to take a test to operate one," Ranger Adams said. "So, really, it's up to them to become educated on their own. I strongly recommend anybody who is going to operate a boat to read up on boating laws first."

Take the 100-foot law, for example.

"The 100-foot law is a very important one," Ranger Adams said. "Out of the complaints we receive from those who have homes on the lake, its number one."

That particular law makes it illegal to jump the wake of another boat within 100 feet. The law also prohibits vessels from operating around or within 100 feet of another vessel faster than idle speed unless it is overtaking or meeting the other vessel. This law is in compliance with the rules of the road for boat operations.

The same law also makes it illegal for the operators of boats to follow too closely behind another vessel or to change or reverse their course of direction.

Ranger Adams said the law applies to bridges and docks, too.

"If it's too small an area to get around, I advise operators of boats to stay away," Ranger Adams said.

A lot of work done by DNR rangers during this time of the year on the lake involves checking for safety equipment on boats, as well as making sure that boats have registration numbers visible on the outside of their vessels.

"We hope it's going to be a safe summer on Clarks Hill Lake," Ranger Adams said. "Only time will tell."

Web posted on Thursday, June 18, 2009

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